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Risk managers urged to prepare now for crisis in the future

Risk managers urged to prepare now for crisis in the future

CALGARY, Alberta--Although few risk managers will likely have to deal with airplane emergencies, such scenarios offer valuable lessons about how to navigate a crisis--namely the importance of being as prepared as possible and remaining calm in an emergency, according an airline pilot who survived a major crash.

Al Haynes, the pilot of United Airlines Flight 232 that crashed at the Sioux City, Iowa airport en route to Chicago on July 19, 1989, after the loss of all three of the airplane's hydraulic systems, outlined key lessons he learned that day at the 31st annual Canadian Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. conference in Calgary, Alberta.

Luck was a key reason why 184 of the 296 passengers and crew aboard the DC-10 survived the crash, Mr. Haynes said. The crash occurred during daylight, in good weather, at an airport close to two hospitals--a trauma center and a burn center--and National Guard units were nearby. In addition, a DC-10 pilot instructor also was aboard, although both pilots quickly realized there was no procedure to fly the plane if all three hydraulic systems failed. The failure took out the airline's brakes and other systems. "It was something that wasn't supposed to happen, so it wasn't something we trained for," he said.

Good preparation and execution, though, were major contributors to the survival of so many people, Mr. Haynes said. Sioux City airport personnel were well-prepared long before UA 232 came onto their radar, skidded on the runway, burst into flames and then flipped over, he said.

Risk managers would be wise to ask themselves if they are as well prepared for a crisis. If not, they should make changes, Mr. Haynes said.

All businesses have standard operating procedures for various scenarios, but risk managers should also understand that they may have to develop solutions on the fly during a crisis, he said. "There's no such thing as a worst-case scenario."

Communicating and keeping calm are extremely important during crisis situations, Mr. Haynes said. The flight controllers at the Sioux City airport gave instructions and information to the flight crew while directing air traffic to other areas. The flight attendants followed standard procedures for crash landings, giving passengers instructions for a possible evacuation. The passengers themselves stayed calm even though they knew the plane was in trouble, he said.

"The whole time in the air, there was no panic," Mr. Haynes said. "I don't care how bad it is, how critical it is, you have to remain calm. Once you've begun to shout, you've lost it."

Cooperation is also critical and risk managers should be willing to listen to colleagues who may have good ideas for handling the crisis, he said. "If you think you know the answer, they might just have a better one," Mr. Haynes said.